Creating a Wilderness Garden


“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

For many years we created our woodland garden on a shoestring. That made extra special the plants that came to us through division, liberation or gift. To this day, I have a soft spot for the perennials that didn’t cost a cent.

There is the blanket of heather that springs from a number of plants gifted to Bruce years ago from a family who attended the Ecumenical Church in Port Alice. They had dug them out of their yard and offered them to anyone interested. We call it Church Heather and it is an incredibly hardy plant that spreads on a whim and sometimes blooms twice a year in wonderful shades of dark purple bleeding off to white.

Baby Bear in the Heather - Bruce Witzel photo

The Juene Landing periwinkle started with a small clump brought home during one of Bruce’s renovation jobs for Western Forest Products. It now thrives and spreads a gorgeous ground cover of glossy-green leaves and stunning little star-shaped blue flowers. Word of warning – this freebie could get to be too much of a good thing if a gardener isn’t careful.

Periwinkle - Bruce Witzel photo

We were fortunate to be gifted with a Monkey Tree seedling from Ronning’s Garden. This garden is a very special and isolated spot on the road to Cape Scott Provincial Park. Many thanks to Ron and Julia Moe for their rejuvenating care of this beautiful location.

Monkey Tree - Bruce Witzel photo


Tiger Lily - Guenette photoOur friends, Mike and Cheryl Reaume offered us one of many mature Japonicas they were digging out of their yard. We brought it north from Campbell River. The Japonica thrives through its varied stages of greens, reds (it is sometimes known as the fire bush and if you see one, you’ll understand why) and small white flowers. As an added bonus, the dirt around this plant contained a few Tiger Lily bulbs. We now have a multitude of bright orange offerings marching out from under the Japonica and multiplying each year.

Red Rhodos @ the Lake

The Kaleva Gardens rhododendron – a deep red variety – was liberated from the edges of a worksite during a renovation. It sits out near our apple tree on the more wind-exposed side of our place. But hearty must be its middle name because it is often the first of the rhodos to bloom and the last one to have a flower.


The Desiree rhododendron, with its price spot in the back garden, now towers over my head. This was a gift from a special student when I left my job at Sunset School in Port McNeill. Every year it produces huge white blooms in joyful abundance. This year it has to be twelve feet across and equally as high.

Cotton Candy Rhodo - Guenette photo

The Hurling rhododendron came to us all the way from Winter Harbour. This little plant had a hard go of it last year when a black bear trod right on it. But enduring must be on this plants label. We simply tucked its bent and damaged stem back under the earth and this spring it looks healthy and ready to go. It’s cotton-candy, baby pink colour was the prize of this year’s collection.

Oh-oh – almost forgot the Byce rhododendron. It’s a gorgeous bright red offering – Vulcan variety!

Apple Blossoms - Guenette photo

You might notice a pattern with rhodos – they really love it here. We have a Cunningham’s Blush Pink variety that complements our apple tree to perfection – both coming into full bloom at the same time.

Lacy Hydrangea - Guenette photo (2)

Then there are the hydrangeas we’ve divided over the years from one special plant. I’m at a loss to remember where the first one came from. I’m sure it was from one of Bruce’s job sites.

Hummingbird in the Montbrecia

The Flostrand’s bulbs – Montbricea that seemed to take forever to bloom and then did so in what can only be described as majestic, humming-bird loving splendour. We also received a bunch of purple flag bulbs that have acclimatized in a wonderful way to our setting. Thanks to Maggie and Lyle for their generosity.

Irises - Guenette photo

Most recently, the Gurski Lilac and a cute little wishing well filled with ivy made their way to us. Too soon to even get photos of these gems. That will have to wait for another post.

Ivy stump - Bruce Witzel photo

And speaking of ivy, a chunk taken from Bruce’s dad’s place in Courtenay years ago – though his warnings were dire when it came to keeping it away from building foundations – has now covered a huge stump and needs continual trimming.

Chives in bloom - Guenette photo

Andrea’s chives, lemon balm and oregano – chunks of plants thick with dirt from her own garden and wrapped in garbage bags were passed on to me. We met at North Island College years ago – taking courses and enjoying each other’s company.

Bamboo on the cliff - Bruce Witzel photo

We liberated from Port Alice a large clump of bamboo though we were warned not to because it can become invasive – it is growing out on the cliff and I think the chances are slim that it will make its way grove-like to our door, but you never know. We ignore these warnings at our own risk.

Lamb's ear - Guenette photo

On a visit to Bruce’s sister Heather’s garden, we noticed a lovely plant – all silvery downy leaves and delicate pink flowers. She gave us a chunk with another of those dire warnings. I call it Lamb’s Ear and, as she warned, it is now everywhere!

The beauty of foxglove - Francis Guenette photo

There are the other weed-like offerings that we embraced as the bounty of the land only to discover that these prolific gems, starting out as innocent mergers, are well on their way to hostile take overs. Though I must say, they are still beautiful. Wild daises threaten to over run all our beds. Foxglove, so beautiful in bloom, has gone mad and must be constantly dug up and removed to the outer edges of our space.

This blog post is dedicated to the generous gardeners who offers bits of this or that from their own gardens for others to grow. It is also written in honour of gardeners who have an eye for rescuing or relocating or liberating those wonderfully free plants that end up creating beauty in new settings.

A liberation gardener - Guenette photo